John Smith
Thu, Aug 10, 2023 7:55 AM

The Niger Crisis: Ecowas Considers Military Intervention Against Coup Leaders

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The Niger Crisis: Ecowas Considers Military Intervention Against Coup Leaders
The West African community, Ecowas, is convening to discuss potential military intervention in Niger following the recent coup by the military. The crisis in Niger has regional and international implications as the country is an important ally to the US and European nations, and the last democracy in the Sahel region.

The West African community, Ecowas, is convening to discuss potential military intervention in Niger following the recent coup by the military. The crisis in Niger has regional and international implications as the country is an important ally to the US and European nations, and the last democracy in the Sahel region.

Two weeks after the military takeover in Niger, Ecowas, under the leadership of Nigeria's President, Bola Tinubu, is considering further actions against the coup leaders. The Ecowas had threatened additional measures, including military intervention, if the junta does not restore the constitutional order and reinstate President Mohamed Bazoum, who has been held captive in his residence for two weeks in the capital city of Niamey. However, the seven-day deadline set by Ecowas expired on Sunday.

The Niger, with its strategic importance as an ally to the US and European nations, was the last democracy in the Sahel region on the edge of the Sahara. France and the US have significant military bases there, each with more than 1,000 soldiers, while the German military operates a logistics hub in the country. Following military coups in neighboring countries Mali and Burkina Faso, which subsequently turned to Russia for support, Niger was considered the last partner for democratic states in a region plagued by growing Islamist terrorism and becoming a center for jihad. The country also serves as a central migration route through Libya to Europe.

The country, with a population of 26 million and the highest birth rate in the world, is more than three times the size of Germany. Despite having natural resources such as gold and uranium, over 40 percent of the population lives in extreme poverty. President Bazoum came into power in 2021, marking the first democratic transition since Niger gained independence from colonial power France in 1960. Prior to his presidency, Niger experienced four military coups, the most recent one being in 2010.

On July 26, Niger's Presidential Guard, led by General Abdourahamane Tiani, detained the President in his residence, allegedly due to Bazoum's intention to replace General Tiani as the head of the elite unit. Initially speculated as an internal power struggle, other branches of the military joined the coup, declaring "the end of the regime" and dissolving all constitutional institutions. General Tiani assumed power.

For Ecowas, this was "one coup too many," said Senegal's Foreign Minister, Aïssata Tall Sall. Mali, Burkina Faso, and Guinea, in addition to Niger, are the fourth out of Ecowas' 15 member countries where the military has seized power since 2020 - and all four are now suspended. On July 30, Ecowas imposed sanctions on Niger and called for President Bazoum's reinstatement and the restoration of the constitution within one week, threatening the possibility of violence.

Experts believe that Nigeria's President, Bola Tinubu, is the main driver behind the threat of military intervention. Less than four weeks prior, the new President of Africa's most populous country had emphasized the defense of democracy against the wave of coups, as he assumed the Ecowas chairmanship. "I think it was a deliberate decision to counter the accusation that Ecowas would once again stand by while the military takes over power," said Marija Peran, the Nigeria Office Director of the Konrad-Adenauer Foundation.

Senegal, Ivory Coast, and Benin are likely to join a potential intervention. According to a plan approved by Ecowas military chiefs, a task force consisting of 25,000 soldiers from these four countries, with the majority coming from Nigeria, which has one of the largest armies in Africa with approximately 230,000 soldiers and a powerful air force. Ecowas, with Nigerian involvement, has conducted several successful operations in the region, the most recent one being in Gambia in 2017. However, these operations were always carried out at the invitation of the respective state.

The suspended Ecowas members, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Guinea, have aligned themselves with the coup governments. Mali and Burkina Faso declared that any intervention would be considered a "declaration of war." The military junta in Niger closed the airspace and prepared for defense. While a delegation from Mali visited General Tiani for talks on military cooperation, a top US diplomat and Ecowas negotiation teams were unable to meet with him.

"A military strike can quickly escalate into a conflagration. I can't envision it in practice," said Ulf Laessing, Sahel Regional Manager of the Konrad-Adenauer Foundation. Africa analyst Ben Hunter from the British consulting firm Verisk Maplecroft warned, "This would no longer be a fight against rebels but an interstate war and one of the largest wars West Africa has ever witnessed. It would have catastrophic consequences for the entire Sahel region. It would be a huge risk for Ecowas."

Following initial heated rhetoric, the tone from Nigeria and other countries has cooled somewhat. Germany, the US, and Russia, among others, have recently emphasized the importance of a diplomatic solution, and Nigeria's President Tinubu was quoted as saying the same on Tuesday.

Even within Nigeria, the prospect of intervention in Niger, which would require crossing the 1,600-kilometer border between the two countries, is extremely unpopular. The security situation in Nigeria, with a population of approximately 220 million, is catastrophic, particularly along this border. In addition to terrorism and gang violence in the north, there are bloody land conflicts in the center and separatist violence in the southeast. "The Nigerian military is already understaffed to the point where they cannot handle the problems," cautioned expert Marija Peran. The Senate has refused to approve the deployment of troops.

Military experts believe that an intervention force from other Ecowas states could be at a disadvantage in a confrontation. European countries had placed great hope in Niger in recent years, as it was supposed to serve as an "anchor" for stability in the Sahel region. In 2020, Niger itself announced plans to double its number of soldiers from 25,000 to 50,000 by 2025.

Around 500 Nigerien soldiers were trained through the German special forces mission "Gazelle." Germany expanded an entire barracks for the country's 41st Special Forces Battalion in western Niger. Equipment, uniforms, vehicles, assault rifles, machine guns, and communication devices were procured for the special forces. Other of the 12 special forces battalions in Niger were supported by other Western partner nations, including the US, Canada, Italy, Belgium, and occasionally France.

However, this does not mean that the Nigerien army has overall control of the situation. Internal military assessments often expressed skepticism. In October, the Ministry of Defense described the "situation in the operational areas" in some regions along the Mali-Burkina Faso border and parts of the border with Nigeria as "mostly uncontrollable." The Nigerien forces were unable to counter jihadists without support. This is also why there is hope in Berlin that the coup leaders or parts of the military will correct their course.

Source of content: OOO News 2023-08-10 News

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